Your Toolbelt Blog

The Morning After Blues

Looking through song lyrics trying to come up with a good title for today’s posting on alcohol as a trigger, all I keep finding are lyrics that glorify getting drunk and how alcohol is an antidote to all life’s pains. The only references to how alcohol really makes you feel are the morning after hangover songs. In truth, however, the hangover is pretty minor compared to the long term effects alcohol has on your overall mental health.

It is interesting to me how pervasive the myths about alcohol “killing your pain” are.  Anyone who has ever gotten drunk knows the truth about alcohol—alcohol is only a palliative in certain limited situations, in limited quantities, and for a limited amount of time only. Anyone who has finished their evening of drinking in the bathroom can attest that the pain is there, all right.

So, most people are aware of how alcohol overindulgence can make you feel physically ill, but I have found in my work with clients, that many people are not aware of its effects on your mental wellbeing. For starters, alcohol is a depressant, in and of itself, so if you are already depressed, alcohol will enhance your feelings of depression. These are the ones who end the evening (before the trips to the bathroom) by weeping into their drinks (and likely how a lot of Country –Western and Blues songs were written).  The hangover effects also increase your depressed mood the next day and lower your already low motivation to do anything more than lie in bed watching reruns of That 70s Show.  This continues the cycle of depression by increasing your disinclination to move your body, which is a necessary part of recovery from depression.

Another nasty trick of alcohol is to lower your inhibitions, which often lead to impulsive and sometimes destructive behavior during your drunkenness.  Thus, in addition to your physical hangover, there is also the morning after “rake yourself over the coals” extravaganza with your self-critic. Negative self-talk belittling your behavior of the night before, as well as your character in general, lead to further depression, and exacerbates anxiety.

Then, there are the physiological effects of alcohol on the body that further render us more vulnerable to feelings of depression and anxiety. Alcohol stresses the body by being difficult to metabolize, which then leads to decreased cognitive and physical function. This is why we feel so foggy headed for up to days after an episode of severe drinking, or even after a usual night of drinking, when we’ve made a habit of drinking alcoholically. This “fogginess” also tends to increase negative self-talk, as we recriminate ourselves for not being able to think clearly.

Alcohol also interrupts sleep and/or decreases the restorative quality of our sleep. And, lack of sleep, as you now know, faithful readers of my blog, is a trigger for anxiety and depression.

Alcohol can also strain your interpersonal relationships when your relationship with alcohol becomes more important to you than your relationship with others. Most commonly, our partner s are the first to notice and take issue with our drinking when it crosses the boundaries into alcoholic drinking patterns. When alcohol becomes the third partner in an intimate relationship, the couple destabilizes and, eventually, falls apart. Certainly, the road to that unfortunate end is paved with anxiety, depression, and negative self-talk galore.

The aim of this posting is to raise your awareness of how alcohol may be impacting you and particularly your mental wellness, not to diagnose or treat alcoholism. I am also not making the statement that those who are anxious or depressed should avoid alcohol entirely, although that may be a choice you decide on your own. As with all triggers, the more you understand the what and why of the trigger, the better prepared you’ll be to mitigate its effects. In the case of alcohol, mitigation may be abstinence, moderation, or a combination of the two.  I usually counsel my clients to avoid “stacking” their triggers, in other words, if you know you’re going to be at an event where you’ll be drinking, be sure to get lots of sleep the night before, eat frequently, and avoid other triggers that you have also identified. That way, the only trigger you’ll be coping with is the alcohol.

For those of you who are concerned about your drinking or have had loved ones express their concern about your drinking, I highly recommend you talk to a mental health professional about your drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous is also an excellent resource for most people.  And, for anyone impacted by their own or anyone else’s drinking, a great resource is the book: Beyond the Influence by Ketchum and Asbury.

Until next time…Breathe out, breathe in, stay alive, and breathe with me (Oomph!)

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